May 2013. About four months following D-Day.
Declaration Day, I mean.
It was around this time that I found a song by Rudimental, simply titled ‘Free’. And I felt like I had written it.
I am Free. That is such a terrific thing to be able to say. But it didn’t come easily.
Freedom is a really interesting concept.
I wonder if freedom actually scares most of us. Or maybe we don’t even realise that we need freeing, because we convince ourselves that we are perfectly happy.
When I think back to married life with Mr Ex, I was happy. I was damn sure of it too. And I didn’t want anything to change. Don’t forget, we were the unsinkable Titanic!
But maybe that was because life with Mr Ex was all I knew.
I know who I am with Mr Ex.
But I don’t know who I am on my own.
I’ve never been on my own.
They say that abused wives will often stay with their abuser, even when given the chance to leave. Maybe there’s an aspect of half-dead kangaroo love there. Or maybe it’s something different altogether. I’m not an expert and I wouldn’t like to speculate too much. But I do wonder if it’s something to do with having a fear of the unknown. The known is safer. Better the devil you know, or whatever that saying is.
I’m not at all saying that Mr Ex was abusive. I’m just saying that I think we all have this desire to stay inside our comfort zones. For better or worse. Whether life is good or actually kind of bad, we like to stay in our comfort zones with our rose-coloured glasses and just keep telling ourselves that life is dandy.
Don’t question anything.
Don’t change anything.
Just keep all your arms and legs inside the comfort zone at all times.
And I’m the first to put my hand up and say that I had every intention of staying inside my comfort zone, thank you very much!
Let’s back-track a few years.
In my first year studying to be a teacher, I was walking through a shopping centre with Mum. There was a pop-up music store in the middle of the walkway. It had quality musical instruments on sale. I played a couple of instruments in primary school but I wasn’t especially musical, so I can’t say that the pop-up musical instrument sale attracted my attention whatsoever. But something caught Mum’s eye. A pink acoustic guitar. And upon closer inspection, I had to agree; it was just gorgeous!!! So I was filled with inspiration that I would learn to play the guitar and even play for the children that I would be working with as a teacher one day. You know, Spaghetti and Meatballs, B-I-N-G-O, Old McDonald… good ol’ campfire favourites!
So, we bought the pink guitar and I took it home.
And that was it. It was perched majestically in my house!
I got caught up in my studies, working and the day-to-day running of life… then getting engaged, getting married… and when Mr Ex and I got married and moved into our new home, the pink guitar became a display feature on the landing at the top of the stairs.
I’d often walk past that guitar and wish that I could play it.
I’d often consider calling my childhood music teacher, who could teach guitar too, but it never happened. There was always something else that needed to be done, a better way to spend our hard-earned dollars or just that it’s all too hard attitude.
But I was happy. And so was Mr Ex.
(Or so we obviously told ourselves).
And yes, Mr Ex obviously concluded at some point that he wasn’t happy.
But in all honesty, for the most part of our seven year relationship together, we were both very happy.
But my ‘happy’ was probably a bit thwarted.
I tried hard to be perfect.
And I thought I was nicely succeeding.
Think Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances! Haha, no, I was never that bad. But I was certainly the kind of person who would clean the house just before the cleaners came, so as to make sure they didn’t think our house was ever that messy. And I was careful to always project an outward perfection to the world.
For years, that worked!
Perfect life. Perfect house. Perfect everything. Perfection = happiness.
I had absolutely no idea that I was in desperate need of freedom.
And I think that feeling of a ‘desperate need for freedom’ is what Mr Ex was starting to cotton onto.
But he maybe dealt with it by having an affair and leaving.
As for me, I started to realise something even more liberating…
I am not perfect.
And that is exactly how I found my freedom.
“We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections and believing that He understands everything –and still loves us!” -A.W. Tozer.
Jesus was about freeing us. Liberating us. Giving us an abundant life. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
I would go so far as to say that people who don’t know Jesus don’t know real freedom.
That’s a big statement, I know!
I believe all humans have an innate desire to search for answers. To seek freedom. To seek something more. And maybe that it exactly what Mr Ex was doing (whether he could articulate it or not) when he shacked up with Cosette.
But I believe that our wandering hearts can only be truly satisfied by the One who created them. Someone famous said that, not me. Maybe CS Lewis?
Anyway, Jesus is about freeing us from the graves we dig ourselves, freeing us from the brokenness of our world and freeing us from the messes we inevitably create.
“…wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).
And I think that is one of the most exciting aspects of the Christian faith.
We are freed from the necessity to work our own redemption. We are freed from trying to climb the staircase to God’s love, because God came all the way down. This means that we are freed from the captivity of hierarchical dualisms one usually finds in religions -A.Christensen.
John Eldredge wrote one of my favourite books, Beautiful Outlaw. He talks about testing our culture and language by “dropping it in the middle of a bar or on a bus”. If we can’t connect with people in these places and if we can’t drop our church culture and language in these places, then it is not from Jesus.
Because that is exactly what Jesus could do.
He could connect with anyone. Any place, any time.
Jesus is about freeing us: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
It is incredibly freeing to be able to say, I am not perfect. And I don’t need to be. In fact, in my own strength, I actually can’t be.
I make bad choices. I am flawed. I stumble, trip and sometimes even fall flat on my face.
BUT God’s amazing grace to me is that my shit is not the end of the story. He sees that I am a mess but he loves me anyway! So I choose to give myself over to Jesus. To die to myself everyday. I come as I am to the cross where I find renewal, regeneration and restoration.
Jesus is also about love: “As I have loved you, love one another!” (John 13:34).
I think that’s the hallmark of someone who intimately knows and loves Jesus. They love others. Including those who are different. Including those who might have differing beliefs or opinions.
Jesus-followers have the passion to reach out to anyone, full-stop.
None of this attitude of, “Oh, I don’t agree with that couple living together before they are married, so I’m not going to their house” or “he left his first wife and I don’t agree with that, so I’m not going to his second wedding.” Jesus-followers kind of understand that we all make bad choices and we are all saved only by God’s abounding grace.
And that is incredibly freeing too.
Through grace and love, comes an amazing confidence to be ourselves.
We are taught in Sunday School, “Jesus loves me!” We see images of Jesus always saying “I love you”.
And while that’s absolutely true and valid, it’s more than that.
Jesus’s love is radical. Life-changing. Ferocious.
It’s the kind of love that changes lives.
Once you have experienced Jesus’s love, you are never the same again.
There is something oh-so-powerful about being loved just as we are. And that changes us. That is what kills us and breaths life back into us.
“Embrace the glorious mess that you are!” -Elizabeth Gilbert.
And that frees me to live!
That frees me to live enthusiastically! To live with gusto! To live uninhibited! To be free from my own fears and weaknesses!
To be human!
“The fact that we are embraced by God means we are freed to be fully and honestly human. We are freed to be eating, drinking, excreting, sexual, working, sweating, hoping, fearing, crying, nurturing, and thinking beings.” (Christenson, 2004).
And to be free in the here and and now. Not staying away from this place or that, but by being whole wherever we might find ourselves.
I really love that word, ‘whole’.
And I love that I don’t have to be ‘whole’ all on my own. Actually, I can’t be whole all on my own. Believe me, I’ve tried. And I fail every time.
But I have an unlimited source of wholeness who makes up for my brokenness.
And that is Jesus.
Harold Kushner offers the following commentary…
“My candidate for the most important word in the Bible occurs in Genesis 17:1 when God says to Abraham, ‘Walk before me and be tamim.’ The King James Bible translates it as ‘perfect’, the RSV takes it to mean ‘blameless’ …. Contemporary scholars take the word to mean something like ‘whole-hearted.’ My own study of the verse leads me to conclude that what God wants from Abraham, and by implication from us, is not perfection but integrity …. That, I believe, is what God asks of Abraham. Not ‘Be perfect,’ not, ‘Don’t ever make a mistake,’ but ‘Be whole.'”
So, I don’t think I need to cut myself off from the world in order to follow Jesus. I don’t need to complete a checklist entitled ‘thou shalt not’, nor conform to a prescription of what I should wear or how I should talk or who I should spend my time with.
I think it’s more like, when you follow Jesus, everything just changes.
And it’s not me. But it is Christ in me.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
So here I am at 24.
Learning to be me!
The broken, messy, quirky, crappy ME. With an awesome, loving, freeing Christ who is a constant source of wholeness for my brokenness.
Dad was walking to the post office and literally bumped into my childhood music teacher. They hadn’t seen each other in more than ten years, but they recognised each other straight away and had a chat in the walkway. Thank you, Jesus! She was retired from full-time music teaching, but Dad told her about my untouched pink guitar and she was keen to give me guitar lessons.
And so began the adventure.
I discovered that I absolutely LOVE playing the guitar.
My finger tips get calluses and I’ve lost my pick inside my guitar more than a few times (and then I have to spend an hour prizing it out, which is much like trying to get the ball into the hole in one of those annoying and impossibly difficult toys inside a Happy Meal), but I love every second of it.
I also discovered I love music festivals.
I love pastel pink lipstick.
I love not camping.
I love writing.
I love doing my weekly shopping at a Farmer’s Market, because how can supermarkets compete with buying bread in a brown paper bag?
Also, I love going out on weekends with my friends. I know. I know. A 24-year-old who didn’t know she liked going out on weekends with friends…? Very odd. But when you’re settled in married life, doing the whole ‘grown up’ thing instead of just being a free-spirited 20-something, and you have a spouse who you just do everything with (go out for breakfast with Mr Ex, go for a beach walk with Mr Ex, go to the movies with Mr Ex…), it’s easy to fall into the routine of spending all your spare time with your spouse. Or just stay at home. Because you have someone to stay at home with. So it kind of eliminates the need to physically go out. And it limits the need to spend time with friends. There’s also the consideration that I didn’t really like going out with friends too much if I knew that Mr Ex was at home alone. So it becomes ridiculously easy to get into that rhythm of spending all your downtime with your partner.
But now that I was suddenly living alone and making new friends, I discovered an enjoyment of going out with friends. My diary had never been more busy.
I discovered that I love Saturday morning brunches at quirky coffee spots.
I love organic pizza cafes.
And I love going to bars and enjoying wine or cocktails into the wee hours.
I also discovered a few things that I can do, which I never thought possible.
I can catch a spider in a glass and take it outside.
I can reverse the car down a challenging driveway.
I can fill the car up with petrol.
I can order my own drink in a noisy, crowded bar.
I can bury a dead blue tongue lizard in my backyard. (Actually, it was only half a dead blue tongue lizard. I have no idea where the other half was).
And I hear you; you’re probably saying, “OK, burying a dead lizard is just gross, but filling up a car with petrol or reversing a car… No big deal.”
But, you know what, they are all things that Mr Ex would automatically do.
And, because of that, they were all things that scared the living daylights out of me. For the first couple of times anyway. But now I can catch spiders and order drinks like a pro.
And, above all else, I discovered that I am significant to God. I am loved. I am a disciple and friend of Jesus. I have been redeemed. I have been reconciled to God. And nothing can separate me from God’s love. I have an assurance that all things in my life are working together for my good. I am complete in Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
And I can now say with passion and conviction, I am Free.
“Because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving spirit has freed you…” (Romans 8:2).